Columnist Ron Rosenbaum has a typically offbeat take on his high school classmate Bob Metcalfe, and on Metcalfe’s Law. Ron hypothesizes that Metcalfe was motivated by coming in second to him in class grades at Bay Shore High School:
Yes, I think I could make a case that it all goes back to Bay Shore High School, where Bob and I were friendly rivals. I should emphasize friendly: He was (and is, as far as I can tellâ€”although weâ€™ve had only sporadic contact since high school) a genuinely good-natured guy, with a good sense of humor to leaven his intellectual seriousness.There was, however, one key philosophical difference and one, letâ€™s say, difficulty in our friendship. The philosophical difference was that even back then, he tended to see the world through the lens of hard science. I recall watching in awe as he soldered together his first primitive analog computer from a kit he ordered from Popular Science. I knew then we were on different paths. My lens was literature: Novels like Pynchonâ€™s The Crying of Lot 49 and Hellerâ€™s Catch-22, with their emphasis on romanticized band-of-outlaws anarchism, led me to a more irrationalist, or at least anti-technocratic, literary-Luddite view of the world.The difficulty involved our rivalry for the position of No. 1 in our class. I edged him out and, as I recall, there was a bit of not entirely good-natured bitterness about this on his part (I was, needless to say, completely gracious about it all).Of course, he went on to be a billionaire, more or lessâ€”and Iâ€™ve entertained the notion that his galling high-school loss to me spurred him on to achieve his fabulous success, which he therefore owes to me. And I went on to â€¦ considerably less lucrative, more literary pursuits. (Still, Cynthia Ozickâ€™s quote about my new book The Shakespeare Warsâ€”â€œElectrifying. A spectacular bookâ€â€”feels better than any sum of money could).
Somehow that closing “feels better than…” rings more than a little hollow. Then again, Rosenbaum is one of the smartest writers working today, and his “Explaining Hitler” is one-of-a-kind, so maybe Bob’s billions really don’t matter.